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Newsletters: November 2017

November 2017Newsletter

Welcome to this month's newsletter - bringing you right up to date with useful benefit information.

In this issue find out more about:

  • Autumn Budget- some key changes ahead for Universal Credit.
  • Universal Credit, Wages and Christmas- how the timing ofpaydays affectsUC & impact on December's UC award
  • Child Element in UC- how to get extra UC as soon as anew baby/child arrives.
  • LHA Cap- scrapped!
  • Supported Housing- future changes: new consultation.
  • No Bank Account / only a Post Office Card Account?- issues for UC claimants.
  • More UC Sanctions-and most of these for not attending a Work Focused Interview.
As well as:
  • Your chance toWIN £50for your localFOOD BANKand chocolates for you!
  • This month'sreally usefulstandard letter.
  • This month'sreally useful tool!
Autumn Budget

UC changes ahead

The following changes to Universal Credit have been announced in the Government’s Autumn Budget:

New Claim Advances
At 100% of the claimant’s likely award, paid back over a 12 month period – from January 2018.

Scrapping the 7 waiting days
From February 2018.

2 week HB run-on
For those claiming UC – from April 2018.

APA managed payments- more flexibility for private tenants

Slowdown of UC roll out

No new claims in 'Live'/Gateway areas??

More informationhere.



Wages,
Universal Credit and Christmas

In the recent political debates about Universal Credit, one of the problemshighlighted was theimpact of wages - ie the timing ofpaydays - on claimants’ awards.

This could be a real problem over the Christmas period because:

  • Where a claimant's UC is assessed based on them receiving 5 weekly wages or two months wages etc (unbeknown to them) - their UC award will be less than they are expecting causing budgeting problems.
  • Those UC claimants normally excluded from the Benefit Cap due to the level of their earnings become affected if no earnings are included on a particular monthlyassessment.
  • And under the Digital UC service, if someone's UC entitlement drops to nil one month, if they become entitled again the next, they will ONLYreceive the UC they are entitled to if they make a RAPID RECLAIM for it.

But - if the reason for the claimant receiving their wage on a different date is due to them having to be paid early - ie their normal pay date falls at the weekend or on a bank holiday - then, if they can engage the help of their employer, they may be able to avoid these problems.

Below we have detailed the background, the problem, the implications and possible solution.

The Background

Universal Credit is awarded in chunks of a month - called Monthly Assessment Periods (MAPs).Itis re-calculated every month, at the end of the claimant's MAP, according totheir income during the MAP and their personal circumstances on the last day of the MAP.

Each claimant has their own MAP - the exact dates of which are dictated by the date they made their claim. So a claimant's UC Monthly Assessment Periodstart and end dates are determined by the date they first made their claim for UC: they are not connected with the start/end of a calendar month - although by coincidence the two can coincide, ie where the original claim was made at the start or end of a calendar month.

Universal Credit is designed to be more flexible than Working Tax Credit because it fluctuates with the claimant’s changes in earnings. This means ina month where a claimant has lower wages, they will receive a larger top-up from UC and when wages are higher, there will be a lower, or even nil award of UC.

At the end of each UC Monthly Assessment Period, the UC computer system will need to find out, from the PAYE Real-Time Information (RTI) computer system, the amount that the claimant’s employer/shas/have reported as having been paid to the claimant during that MAP.

So, what’s the problem?

UC claimants who work fluctuating hours on a low income, egthose on zero-hour contracts, often find that the unpredictability of their wages and UC makes it hard to manage their limited weekly household budget.

However, the issue we are looking at affects claimants who work the same number of hours every week. The problem is that, if nothing in the claimant’s circumstances has changed from one month to the next, they (quite reasonably) expect to receive the same amount of UC top-up as they got the previous month. They will then get a big shock when they unexpectedly get less or even no award of UC just before or after Christmas!And this is not an error by the UC dept – this is the way the system is designed!

If someone is paid weekly, there will be around fourUC Monthly Assessment Periods in a 12 month period when fiveweekly paydays fall – meaning a higher wages figure is put into the calculation and soa lower UC award for those MAPs.

If a claimant is paid every 4 weeks they will usually receive onewage payment every Monthly Assessment Period. However, because they will receive 13 wage payments in a 12 month period, on an average of onemonth per year they will receive twowage payments within a Monthly Assessment Period. When this happens, their Universal Credit award will be assessed on the two wages, and it is likely that their income within this Monthly Assessment Period will be too high to retain a Universal Credit award.

Anyone who is paid monthly will normally receive each wage within a Monthly Assessment Period. This means that if their wages and personal circumstances stay constant, their Universal Credit entitlement should normally stay the same. However, problems can occur if the claimant's UC assessment (ie the last day of their Monthly Assessment Period) falls close to their normal wages pay date. If their normal wages payday falls at the weekend or on a bank holiday their pay will usually be paidon the first working day before this.

Also, some employers (very kindly) pay their employees their December wage early.

So, where 2 monthly wages fall within the same UC Monthly Assessment Period, this is likely to result in no award of UC.

For more information, including about how fortnightly wages affect UC seehere.

Who will be affected by this around Christmas?
30thand 31stof December 2017 fall on a Saturday and Sunday. So,those who normally get paid by their employer on the last day of the monthmay receive their December pay on Friday 29th.And anyone who is paid weekly and whose Monthly Assessment Period starts on a Thursday or a Friday will have fivepaydays in their Monthly Assessment Period in the run up to the new year.

So, for the following claimants there is a risk that their December / January UC payment will be lower than they are expecting and therefore could cause hardship:

  • Those who are paid monthly, if their UC Monthly Assessment Periods run from 30thto 29thof the month. This is because twomonthly wage packets will be included when their UC entitlement is assessed for the MAPending 29thDecember 2017 – one from 30thNovember and the other paid on 29thDecember.
  • Those who are paid on a Friday, if their UC Monthly Assessment Periods start on a Thursday or Friday on the run up to Christmas.
  • Those who are paid 4 weekly and either:
    • their UC Monthly Assessment Period which ends some time in December happens to be the one per year in which two4-weekly wages fall, or
    • two wages falls within the Monthly Assessment Period because one is paid early due to it falling at the weekend or on a bank holiday.
  • Those whose employer pays their December wages early (eg before Christmas) and this means that 2 monthly/4 weeklywages fall within the same UC Monthly Assessment Period.
Implications

Are they really worse off?

You might think that this is not a huge problem, because where more wages fall within one Monthly Assessment Period, the claimant will make up for it by getting a higher UC award in the months where no/lower wages are included in the assessment.

However, some claimants do lose out financially due to this feature of the UC system. Those who lose out are claimants who can have the ‘work allowance’ applied to their earnings ie those with dependent children or who have (or whose partner has) a limited capability for work.

Wages do not reduce a UC award £ for £. The way net earnings are factored into the calculation are as follows:
  • Firstly, for those who have dependent children or a limited capability for work, there is a work allowance (earnings disregard) of £192 per month (if their UC includes a Housing Costs Element) or £397 per month (if it doesn't).
  • Secondly, for every £1 of net earnings above the work allowance the claimant’s ‘Maximum UC’ is reduced by 63p.

Therefore where 2 monthly wages are included in one monthly UC assessment, only one work allowance is applied to the combined wages. And in a month when no wages are included in the UC calculation, although the claimant will be living off their monthly wages,they would not have benefited from the work allowance.

Also, anyone who is only excludedfrom theBenefit Capthrough earning more than £520 per month will not be excludedduring Monthly Assessment Periods when, despite having earned this amount,no, or a lower, amount of wages are used in the UC calculation (ie because they weretaken into account 'early' in the previous MAP).

And, clearly,when someone, without warning, has an unexpectedly low or nil UC award, this causes problems with budgeting.

Risks

Another big issue for claimants on the Full/Digital Service is that after being ‘floated off’ UC (in this case due to extra wages being included in the assessment) – unless the claimant logs into their account to kick-start their claim again ie makes a rapid reclaim – they will not get their next entitlement of UC! More informationhere.

The Full/Digital Service rules on this are quite different to theLive/Gateway UC system. If a claimant on the Live/Gateway Service has an increase in wages which 'floats' them off UC and,within 6months of them 'floating off', the claimant has a drop in wages, the computer automatically picks up on thisand re-awards UC without the need for the claimant to do anything.

So there is a risk that anyone who has been on UC under the Live/Gateway Service might not realise that, once on the Full/Digital Service, they must log in to their account in order to re-start their award.

Is there any way to avoid theseproblems?

The design of the Universal Credit system is unlikely to change to deal with this issue.

However, there is a possible solution for some claimants - to ask the employer to report the wages as being paid on the normal payday. Eg. If the normal payday falls on a Sunday, the employer can pay the employee their wages on a Friday, but report on the PAYE system that the payday was the Sunday.
In fact, HMRC guidance to employersheretells employers to do precisely this.

"Payment date - The date you paid them, not the date you run your payroll. Use the normal payday if it falls on a non-banking day."

This way, the UC computer system will factor one month’s wages into each UC Monthly Assessment Period.

However, the above solution will not work for early wages paid before Christmas* – nor those paid weekly on a Friday whose MAP starts on a Thursday or a Friday and who will therefore receive 5 wages during the MAP before Christmas - as the above guidance is connected with non-banking days.

*Perhaps - where the employer pays early, claimants could ask their employer to stick to their normal payday in these instances if paying them early would actually make them worse off.


Digital UC - The Essentials

Get yourself booked on to one of our open courses

Wednesday13th December 2017

Venue: Manchester


Wednesday13th December 2017

Venue: Marriott Hotel, Leeds


Thursday 12th April 2018

Venue: EMH Homes, Coalville, Nr Leicester


Just £95+vat per delegate
Click herefor more details

Get booked on: email jill@housingsystems.co.uk

Not near you? Let us know if you would be interested in attending this course if it was being run in your area and we'll see if we can set one up.


"Excellent trainer, very relevant and flagged up some strategic issues. I never thought I'd say I enjoyed a Welfare Benefits training session - but I really did!In fact we'd like to make it an annual event."
Keniston HA


"This was really, really useful - the best UC course I have attended so far."
Debt and Welfare Benefits Officer

Getting extra UC
for a new baby


When a Universal Credit claimant has a new baby or takes on responsibility for a child/young person, the DWP should include the child in the UC award from the start of the Monthly Assessment Period during which the child started to normally live with the claimant.

Delays in getting Child Benefit payments for the new baby/child shouldnothold up getting the extra Child Element (where applicable), Disabled Child Element, help with child care costs or size criteria bedroom allocation for the child.


Other evidencethat the child/young person is living with them should be sufficient, eg. hospital discharge notice, letter from social worker / heath visitor / midwife / doctor / school etc.

If you are working with a UC claimant who is struggling to get a Child Element included in their UC award because the Child Benefit has not yet been awarded – then please use ourstandard letter UC HM2/ copy the text into their journal and we would suggest they let their MP know. Seeherefor more information.

You can also make a formal complaint about the way the claim has been handled to theComplaints Resolution Team(who should help resolve the matter quickly).



LHA Cap
Scrapped

This news came out of the blue just after our October Newsletter went out, so it is not exactly 'hot off the press', but, in case you hadn't heard the news.....

Speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions on 25th Oct, the Prime Minister stated:

“.....we will not apply the Local Housing Allowance Cap to supported housing. Indeed we will not be implementing it in the wider social rented sector ...”

And this has been confirmed in the recent documents published to support the Autumn Budget:

"The government will not be proceeding with the introduction of Local Housing Allowance rates for housing benefit or Universal Credit entitlements in the social rented sector, previously scheduled for April 2019."


So, the proposed capping of Housing Benefit and Universal Credit Housing Costs for social housing tenants to the Local Housing Allowance rates planned to start in April 2019 will no longer happen.

This has no impact on the rules for 18-21 year olds claiming Digital UC which remain in place and mean that some young people will not get any help with their rent -click here.



Consultation on
Supported Housing

At the same time as announcing the U-turn on the social housing LHA Cap, the Prime Minister also announced there will be changes to the funding of supported housing from 2020.

Two consultations have been launched - one on sheltered/extra care housing and one on short term accommodation - responses needed by 23rd January 2018.

The proposals are for:

A ‘Sheltered Rent’– for those in sheltered and extra care housing (including working age) from 2020.
This will be funded through the welfare system (we assume this means for those of Pension Credit age: Housing Benefit - which may become a Housing Element included in a Pension Credit assessment in the future;and for working age: Universal Credit).

Butthe social housing regulator of the Homes and Communities Agency will useexisting powers to regulate gross eligible rent (the consultation is seeking reviews on the appropriate rent level), and to control rent increases.

This means that there will be acap on the rent providers can charge (including service charges) - determined using the model: 'formula rent, plus or minus 10% flexibility and an amount for the eligible service charge up to a maximum'.

In addition, housing providerswill have to publish breakdowns of their service charges.

A Local Grant Fund– from 2020, for short-term and transitional supported housing (including homeless with support needs, fleeing domestic abuse, drug and alcohol misuse, offenders, young people at risk). Services will be commissioned locallyusing a new "local planning and oversight regime"and funded by Local Authorities through a ring fenced grant. This removes short term support costs from the welfare system.

The government says they aim to define short-term supported housing as available for up to two years or until a person has moved to long-term stable accommodation - whichever occurs first. But presumably this will depend on the outcome of the new consultation.

For Short Term Supported Housing, therefore, support is moving away from a statutory entitlement system to one of discretionary (and presumablytime limited) grants, which are likely to include the need for the Local Authority to ensure they are securing value for money.

The Welfare System(Housing Benefit/Universal Credit) – for long-term supported housing – including learning disabilities, mental ill health, physical disabilities, and "highly specialised supported housing". 100% of housing costs (rent inclusive of eligible service charges) will continue to be funded through the welfare system & subject to existing rules.

"The Government will work with the sector to develop and deliver improvements to cost control, quality and outcomes."

You can find a link to the consultation documenthere.

Missing Managed Payment Predictor..........

Receiving APA Managed Payments for claimants on the 'Full'/Digital UC service?

Use our new tool to predict which APA/TPD schedule will be missing a payment.


Click here

Digital UC

Nobank account?

When someone makes a claim for Universal Credit on the Full/Digital Service, the online claim asks for the claimant's bank / building society / credit union account details.

If the claimant enters that they do not have one, or only have aPost Office Card Account, a message appears on the screen, informing theclaimant to ring the call centre for assistance with opening an account. The call centre will probablyadvise the claimantto go to abankin theirarea to open an account.

We are aware that some claimants have found it difficult to open an account due to lack of photographic identification.Some claimants are resorting to applying for a provisional driving licence as a form of photo ID, but it could beseveral weeks until they receive this.

The Universal Credit computer screen may indicate that the claimant must input their new bank account details within 7 days. Some claimants may think this means thattheir claim will not be processed, or will be 'closed down' if they do not manage to set up a bank account in time.

But, having abankaccountis NOT one of the eligibility criteria to be entitled to UC - it is just a means of making the payment. The DWP would prefer the claimant to have a bank account - but they cannot insist on this.

So, where a claimant is trying their best to sort this out, they should notify the UC department. Their claim shouldnotbe terminated for failure to set up a bank account.If aclaim is terminated for this reason, the claimant should:

  • Request a mandatory reconsideration of that decision, AND
  • Make a new claim for UC - requesting that the new claim is treated as made on the date they originally claimed, explaining everything that has happened.

Universal Credit can be paidinto aPost Office CardAccountif the claimant hasno alternativeaccount! It may be more inconvenient for the UC Deptto make the payment -as it is not a BACS payment, but the DWP have no legal grounds to refuse to do this.

Be aware that failure to open a bank account may cause delays - and the claimant may have a battle on their hands. But if the DWP do refuse to pay into a Post Office Card Account, they should be asked to quote the Regulations that say UC has to be paid into a bank account!


If the claimant does want to open a bank account, Jobcentres or local councils should be able to tell UC claimants where they can get one-to-one support with opening one (part of the Universal Support Locally service).

It is also worth remembering that anyone who is vulnerable, eg who has mental health / other health problems, learning / literacy difficulties or has previously been homeless etc, should be given the help and support they need to make their claim. If they don't, it may be worth making a complaint to the Complaints Resolutions Team.

Find more informationhereandhere.
Would you like...?

more of our
2017-18 Pocket size
Benefit Rates
leaflets


(Free of charge - better than all those other
Black Friday offers!)

Contact us if you would like some: info@housingsystems.co.uk

Increase in Sanctions for UC claimants

Latest Statistics show an increase inthe number of sanctions imposed on Universal Credit claimants. The proportion of sanctioned claimantsdoubled- from 3.4%to 6.9%- between the quarter ending December 2016 and the quarter ending March 2017.

And the most recent statistics on reasons for sanctions being imposed, for the quarter to June 2017, show that 71% of decisions to sanction UC claimants were for failing to comply with a Work Focussed Interview.

'Failure to comply with a Work Focussed Interview' usually means that theclaimant has not turned up for,or has arrived late, for their interview. It could also mean that, although the claimantattended, they did not co-operate or participatein the discussion.

There are different 'levels' of sanctions, depending on the type of offence or failure. Failure to attend a Work Focused Interview is an offence which is punishable by a Low Level Sanction (or, for anyone with a child over 1 and under 3, a Lowest Level Sanction). Sanction periods for Low/Lowest Level Sanctions are open-ended. This means they continue for as long as the claimant is 'non-compliant'.

The claimant can become 'compliant' by booking another Work Focused Interview. Therefore it is important to advise anyone who has received a sanction for failing to attend a Work Focussed Interview, tore-book another appointment as a matter of urgency. The sooner they re-book, the shorter the sanction period will be.

It does not matter if the new Work Focused Interview is not until the following week or even after that, it is the fact that the claimant has re-booked which makes them 'compliant'. The sanction period will last from the day they failed to attend, or failed to participate in, the Work Focused Interview up to the day before they re-book. For Low Level sanctions there is an additional,fixed sanction period of 7 days (or possibly 14 or 28 days if there have been previous Low Level sanctions in the last 12 months).

Therefore if a claimant arriveslate for their Work Focused Interview and the Work Coach says they havemissed their appointment, it is important that the claimant re-books another Work Focused Interview (either via the Jobcentre or by ringing the UC call centre) on the same day. They should do so even if DWP staff have not mentioned the risk of a sanction. A sanction decision can be made days or weeks after the failure.

If the claimant feels that they hada good reason why they missed or failed to participate in their Work Focused Interview, they shouldchallenge the sanction decision by requesting a Mandatory Reconsideration. If they arenot happywith the Mandatory Reconsideration decision, they can lodge an appeal.

You can find more information about UC sanctionshere.


Coming soon...

Our

2018 Calendar
Wallchart


Free of charge too!
Contact us if you would like some for your team.


This month's useful
standard letter



With hundreds of useful standard letters on the website it would be surprising if you were aware of all of them.So each month wehighlightone for you.

This month we would like to highlight:Standard Letter HS11.

This letter is to request that Housing Benefit continues to be paid during the period of an Income Based Jobseeker's Allowance sanction.


When someone'sIB-JSA is sanctioned (and not also terminated), even ifthe sanction deduction leaves them with no payment of IB-JSA, the IB-JSAclaim is still 'live' and therefore still a 'passport' to maximum HB.

It is important to keep the HB claim running and to apply for hardship payments of JSA to avoid having to claim Universal Credit instead.

If the claimant does not inform the HB Office of their situation, their HB may be terminated OR if they fail to sign on for JSA then their IB-JSA claim will end.

The claimant, if living in a Full/Digital UC, may then have to claim UC, and they are likely to be worse off because their JSA sanction would be applied to their UC instead and - any hardship payments would then be in the form of a repayable loan!

You can find theletter
here.



This month's

useful 'tool'



In addition to highlighting one of our standard letters in eachnewsletter- we thought you may find it helpful if we also remind you each month aboutthe many tools which are at your fingertips too!

Have you seen our newDigital UC Checklist?

For someone who has made a claim for Universal Credit under the Full/Digital Service, there are many issuesfor them still to do to ensure their claim is processed- getting their ID verified,booking appointments at the Jobcentre and correcting errors about their rent.

There are alsomany things to considertoo, such as making sure they are excluded from the waiting days where appropriate, claiming help with the Council Tax and how they are going to manage their budgeting.


This new checklist will help you to ensure your tenants get their UC claim into payment and get paid the right amount at the right time.

You can find the Digital UC Checklisthere.



Your chance to
win £50for your local food bank

Every month we giveyou the chance towin £50for your local food bank.
The winner will be selected at random and can nominate a food bank of their choice to receive a £50cheque fromus, and will receive a box of chocolates for themselves.

Well done to last month's winner -
Denise Hair from Liverpool Mutual Homes- a £50 cheque is making its way to St Andrew'sFood Bank.

To enter this month's competition, just email the answerto the question below to us byFriday 22nd Decemberfor your chance to win.

This month we are asking:

What should the landlord do in this situation and when?

A Housing Association / private landlord is informed by the Housing Benefit Office that they have discovered that one of their tenants has a large overpayment, caused by the tenant's failure to report an increase in their income. The letter to the landlord says that although the overpaid HBcouldbe recovered from the landlord,they will be recovering this overpayment from the tenant instead.

Find your answerhere.


email your answer to:info@housingsystems.co.uk

Using the links in the newsletter
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